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Tuesday, March 10, 2020


Paul wrote his epistle to the saints at Rome without actually having been to Rome. He didn't know these people personally. He wanted to, but he hadn't gotten to them yet. So he laid out a straightforward presentation of the Gospel in advance of his arrival -- a kind of "study guide" if you will. "Here's what we'll be talking about when I get there."

In his epistle to "unknown" Christians, then, Paul appears to have really messed up. You want to make a good impression, right? "How's the wife? How's the kids? Everything okay with you guys?" That kind of thing. Paul didn't do that. He said that he wanted to "reap some harvest" (Rom 1:13) among them. What harvest? "I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome." (Rom 1:15) That's when he gives his famous, "I am not ashamed oof the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." (Rom 1:16) In what sense is it the power of God? "In it the righteousness of God is revealed." (Rom 1:17) That's powerful, but he explains further that it is revealed in the phrase, "The righteous shall live by faith." (Rom 1:17) So how does this reveal the righteousness of God? He begins the answer to that question in the next verse.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Rom 1:18)
(Note: He doesn't complete the answer until Rom 3:21-22.) See? Paul is unclear on the concept. If you want to make a good impression, you don't go around telling people that "God is really, really mad ... at something you've done." You don't accuse people you don't know of "ungodliness and unrighteousness." You don't tell them that they've suppressed the truth. That's just not done in polite society.

But Paul did it. He did it from chapter 1 verse 18 all the way through chapter 3 verse 20. He laid out the worst of the bad news, beginning with human culpability -- "they are without excuse" (Rom 1:20) and ending with human inability -- "by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight." (Rom 3:20)

The thing is, by doing this Paul laid out the worst of the bad news in order to present the best of all possible good news. Only in this hopeless and helpless condition does "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe" become really, really good news (Rom 3:22). Only then is the full impact achieved. Paul transgressed conventional protocols for talking to strangers in order to give them the best possible news out of the worst possible situation.

I titled this "Rebuke" for a reason. I've been thinking lately about my approach on the topic of judgment and rebuke. I've defended it biblically in the face of a popular culture that tells us to back off. But this time I'm aiming to rebuke us believers. Should we point out sin in others? Jesus did. Paul did. Scripture does. Yes, we should. Should we do it in love (rather than moral indignation or self-righteous pride)? Absolutely! Without a doubt! So ... why don't we? Why do we hold back? We have the best of all possible good news that requires us to tell people the bad news of sin in order to grasp the magnitude of the Gospel -- the good news. How can we not share that? If we love others, how can we possibly hold back? Are we going to let self-preservation and personal discomfort prevent us from loving others that way? I would hope not.


Bob said...

A very compelling question that all believers have to face is; what are we willing to suffer for the cause of Christ? this question is at the root of all our fears. the reason most do not engage others is because to do so; requires an expectation rejection. Conflict avoidance is not a virtue. when I call attention to another's needs for Christ and Salvation, I have made an immediate declaration of Spiritual Warfare. the lancing action of the bad news causes pain, but the salve of the following Good New, is worth the struggle.
we are not of this world. therefore we are not trying to save this world. but rather we are calling out from this perishing place, the people of God, those that believe.

Stan said...

You're right, Bob. But we're so very ready to face fears and difficulties for things we are passionate about. When I stand back and "self-protect," it makes me question my passion ... for Christ and for others. Conversely, if I am "facing my fears" without love, again I question my passion for Christ and for others.